History of Grenada

Brief History of Grenada

When Christopher Columbus sighted Grenada in 1498, on his third voyage, the island was already inhabited by the Kalinago, Caribs. For the next century and a half, the Caribs successfully resisted all attempts at European settlement. The Spanish were more interested in reaching Venezuela, and used Grenada only as a stop over point, and occasional trade with the Caribs.

On 1 April 1609, three shiploads of English settlers arrived in Grenada but were attacked by the Caribs as soon as they set foot on the island. Their stay was brief and they had left the island within the year. Grenada continued to be used as a base for trade and attack on Spanish interests in Trinidad and the mainland.

The Europeans and the Caribs, engaged in trade as well as war throughout the 1500’s, but the arrival of the governor of Martinique, Du Parquet was to be unique. In 1650, Du Parquet, who ultimately wanted to expand French domination of the Lesser Antilles, arrived at an agreement with the local Chief. In exchange for goods, Du Parquet, was able to stay on the island and clear land for crops. These soon turned into small settlements, and Du Parquet returned to Martinique leaving his cousin Le Comte (governor 1649 – 1654) in charge of Grenada. Hostilities between the Caribs and the French broke out almost immediately. There were many battles fought, one giving rise to the legend of ‘Le Morne de Sauteurs’ or ‘Leapers’ Hill’, where a group of Caribs had been cornered and they leaped over the cliff edge to their deaths rather than surrender.

Eventually after more raids, Le Comte and his army burnt the Carib houses and fields, destroyed their boats, so they couldn’t leave the island or go for help. After Le comte’s death, he was replaced by ‘Louis Cacqueray de Valminière’, who brought on an army of 100 to protect the settlers against Carib raids. The settlement began to grow, and soon the most of the Caribs either left or remained on the borders of island life. More settlers arrived, and by 1753, there were around 100 indigo, tobacco, coffee, cocoa and sugar plantations and up to 12,000 slaves in Grenada.

The French maintained control over the island until 1763 when it was ceded to the British under the Treaty of Paris, following the Seven Years War. The French re-captured the island in 1779 however this was to last for just four years, when under the Treaty of Versailles in 1783, the island was handed back and permanently ceded to the British.

Having gained possession of Grenada, the British started importing large numbers of slaves from Africa and the sugar plantations became big business. They were predominantly Protestant among the French and Mulatto Catholic population. Elections of the day discriminated against the Catholics, and religious and political unrest ensued.

Twelve years later in 1795, came the ‘The Fedon Rebellion’, British control was challenged and the administration sent into chaos. Julian Fedon, a Mulatto planter led the island’s slaves into a violent rebellion, and took control of Grenada freeing the slaves who joined in rebellion. Fighting continued over the year and a half, until the British regained control of the island. Suspected leaders of the rebellion were executed, however Fedon himself was never captured. The British remained in control, but tensions remained high until slavery was abolished in 1834. In 1877 Grenada became a Crown Colony, which lasted until 1967 when it became an associated state within the British commonwealth.

By the 1950’s living conditions of workers led to the formation of the Grenada Manual and Metal Workers’ Union, and in 1951 there was the first Union strike led by Eric Matthew Gairy. Opposing Gairy and his campaign, which some believed to be for personal power disguised by the role of people’s champion, were the planters and the merchants, in addition to workers with reports of intimidation. The strike formally ended on March 19, 1951, in victory for Gairy’s Union and he and the Agricultural Employers’ Society reached an agreement. Agricultural wages were raised by 50%, and for the workers received paid leave.

Gairy’s success thrust him into the limelight and was his rise political power. He formed the first local political party, the Grenada United Labour Party (GULP) which was pro independence. In late 1951, the party won a legislative election and Gairy went on to dominate the politics of Grenada for nearly 30 years.

There was opposition to separation from Britain, and Gairy in the form of New Jewel Movement (NJM), formally established March 11, 1973 headed by lawyer and Marxist Maurice Bishop. In January 1974, an ‘anti-independence’ strike broke out preventing Gairy from seizing power. After some weeks of total chaos on the island the paramilitary group, the ‘Mongoose Squad’ through brute force helped secure the situation in Gairy’s favour, and independence was announced the following week on February 7, 1974. Over the following years, Grenada experienced corruption, political intimidation, and increasing unrest.

On March 13 1979, while Gairy was out of the country, his political opponent Bishop seized power in an almost bloodless coup, due to his widespread local support. They established a provisional revolutionary government, and over the next four years, Bishop set about strengthening ties with nearby Cuba and the Soviet Union. Soon the New Jewel Movement was splitting into factions.

In October, 1983 Bernard Coard, Bishops deputy, former close friend, and NJM hardliner, with backing from the military, overthrew Bishop in a coup d’etat. Bishop and several of his aids were executed. The U.S.A had been concerned about the impact of a communist regime, and this gave them the opportunity to invade. ‘Operation Urgent Fury’ was successful and overthrew the New Jewel regime days later deposing Coard. US forces withdrew two months later, although US-Caribbean force remained stationed on the island for several years after. Democratic elections resumed and in 1984 Herbert Blaize was elected Prime Minister of Grenada.

Find out more about the history of the Caribbean Islands
Barbados | Dominica | Grenada | Jamaica | St Lucia | Trinidad | Tobago